The familiar humidity, vigour and intensity of the summer storm season arrived this year in an exciting new form.
SUPERCELL Festival Of Contemporary Dance Brisbane hit the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from 18-26 February for a collision of performance, practice and ideas that rivalled the excitement and unpredictability of its summer storm namesake. Featuring performances by local, national and international dance artists, alongside workshops, discussions and meditations, SUPERCELL’s greatest triumph is its assembly of contemporary dance in its most diverse forms.
Co-founders Glyn Roberts and Kate Usher’s clever and considered curation pushed wildly diverse forms of contemporary dance up against one another, creating the friction and force necessary to accelerate contemporary dance in Brisbane. The experimental form of contemporary dance used in ‘(To) Come and See’, a SUPERCELL exclusive from Switzerland, and ‘Underworld’ by Melbourne based artists Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jansen showed audiences a style of performance rarely seen in Brisbane. Both works reject the technique and grace of classical ballet, replacing it with a physical performance style that pushed Brisbane audiences to the exact level of discomfort required to provoke and surprise.
‘(To) Come and See’ played with physical stillness, presence and absence of the body, and direct address in ways we rarely see on Brisbane’s stages. The piece opened with the dancers scanning the audience for the person they would most like to sleep with and voicing their feelings of attraction to their desired person. The anticipation and discomfort was palpable as the audience collectively tensed its body, embarrassed by the display of eroticism and the declarations of admiration landing on it. This epitomised the power of dance to affect its audience, while brilliantly challenging the styles and forms of movement commonly associated with emotional expression.
Aiken and Jansen’s work ‘Underworld’ similarly conflates the boundary between contemporary dance and performance. The dancers conjure a dystopic camping trip using a seamless blend of movement and images to interrogate human connection with our physical bodies and the natural world. From a yoga-on-crack and a relentless Bush Doof, to flying tents and the chicken cooked live on stage; no form of action and movement was off limits.
This experimental work collided with the beauty and fluidity of China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company and the physical articulation of Macau’s ‘Stella and Artists’ to illustrate the flexibility and breadth of the form. SUPERCELL has real potential to expand perceptions of how contemporary dance looks and feels, and what it can be.
Balancing SUPERCELL’s stylistic breadth was its tight focus on the themes of globalisation and identity, which flowed through the entire programme. Particular mentions to Bridget Fiske’s ‘Inner Terra’ and Hepi and Wasasala’s ‘Passing’ for their powerful exploration of cultural assimilation and its impact on identity. Both duets used physical exchanges, and the friction between the two bodies, to demonstrate how cultural assimilation works on and through our bodies, and the emotional marks it leaves.
In addition to achieving its on-stage goals, SUPERCELL’s intent to defy the traditional fly-in fly-out festival model was realised in the audience and foyer over the course of the week. SUPERCELL’s audience was dotted with artists seen on stage throughout the festival, and more importantly, they were actively engaged in conversations in the foyer. This offered a particularly valuable opportunity for local emerging artists who presented work as part of SUPERCELL’s INDEX programme, which ran each night prior to the main season performances.
While SUPERCELL’s main programme closed on the weekend, the festival umbrella also includes the presentation of ‘Propel’ by Expressions Dance Company, opening Friday 3 March at the Judith Wright Centre.
SUPERCELL is slated to become an annual summer event, and judging from the impact of this year’s storm, it will inevitably leave its mark on Australia’s contemporary dance landscape.